Limbing Up Trees So You Can See The House Again

Alternate post title: Trees: 0. Sherry: 2.

You might not remember what our first house looked like when we bought it so I’ll remind you:

And this is what it looked like five hours after John left and I went crazy with a clipper (surprise!):

Three cheers for being able to see the house. And we gained a view of the neighborhood from our front windows. You know, instead of the view of a dense “tree fence.” So much better. Plus it was free and gave me a nice little arm workout.

Of course that house’s curb appeal was a pretty constant four and a half year evolution (these things take time) so when we left we finally had it looking like this:

Isn’t it amazing what removing some stuff and bringing in some other stuff can do? And we’re huge fans of craigslisting bushes and trees that you don’t need to give them a second life (we post “you dig ’em up and they’re yours for free” ads and people come and do all the work to clear our yard – it’s pretty amazing).

But I digress. Back to this house and my “me vs. tree” tally. I decided to surprise John while he was out picking up these craigslist chairs, so while he was driving to Mechanicsville and back (about an hour and a half round-trip) and Clara was inside napping (miraculous!) I realized I was free to go outside and go crazy on our giant blocks-the-entire-house-and-it’s-all-you-see-out-the-window magnolia.

You think I’m kidding. Here’s the giant ranch-hiding magnolia:

At first we thought we needed to get it taken down (it’s just way too big to be right smack in front of a small ranch, and it blocks so much light). But when my mom visited she recommended that we try limbing it up as an it-can’t-hurt solution to see if we could keep it – at least for a while. So I decided to give it a go. Couldn’t hurt right? Although I was kinda scared my tree tally would end up tied (since the magnolia is a lot more monstrous than the other trees that I tackled by myself at our first house).

Here’s what I used: a Corona branch clipper and a WoodZig hand saw, both from Lowe’s about four years ago.

And here are my other supplies:

A baby monitor, my cell phone, and the house phone. In case Clara woke up, I needed to be ready to drop the clippers and spring into action. And in case John called, I needed to be able to answer the phone and act like I wasn’t outside cutting down giant tree limbs so as not to ruin the surprise. John actually did call a few times so I tried not to sound too out of breath as I hurriedly dragged giant branches to the back of our property (one good thing about having nearly an acre of land is that there’s always a wooded spot in the back for dumping trimmings).

My method was basically to use the branch clipper to get all of the thinner branches that I could reach from the ground (since the clippers were so long they extended my reach quite a bit) and then to use the hand saw while standing on a nice sturdy wrought iron lawn chair (I probably should have gotten the ladder but I’m too wimpy to carry it by myself) to get all of the thicker branches that the clipper couldn’t handle.

The hand saw part of the job was the hardest (it only took about ten minutes to clip all of the low-hanging branches that I wanted to nix, but it took about 15 minutes per giant branch that I had to saw manually. And I tackled three of those for a total of 45 arm-cramping minutes spent sawing away. Oh well, still a better solution than me with a chainsaw (which I’m pretty sure would = death). Plus I am now the proud owner of Arnold Schwarzenegger arms.

Just kidding but how disturbing is that mental picture?

Anyway, the other hardest part of the job was dragging what felt like an entire tree into the back of our lot after trimming everything back (including a few dead boxwoods that I cut out from the front yard’s perimeter while I was at it)…

….while panicking that John would pull up mid project or Clara would wake up and start screaming for me. Luckily I got everything to the back just in time to snap a few “progress” photos (let’s face it, they’re most definitely not curb appeal after pics)…

… and run inside, toss all of my muddy clothes into the wash, and even take a quick shower before Clara woke up and John got home. And since some of my best ideas happen in the shower, it was there that I hatched the plan to video tape John’s arrival (I snickered at the thought of catching that what-the-heck-did-you do look on his cute surprised face). So here it is:

That’s right. He didn’t even notice that the bottom of the magnolia was missing (!!!) because he couldn’t tear his eyes away from his weird wife waiting in the carport with the Flip cam. Foiled. But when he did walk around front to see my handiwork he was definitely shocked and extremely happy that I did all the work without him. Haha. Mission accomplished (I kept saying that all I wanted for my birthday was to limb up the magnolia so I finally made it happen, if not a bit late).

I’m sure our front yard will continue to evolve over the years just like our first house did (we’ve got a long way to go), but for a free 1.5 hour afternoon undertaking, it was totally worth it. Even if only for the light that now floods into the dining room and a view of the neighborhood that we gained (instead of a big old mass o’ leaves out the front windows).

Point: me.

But come to think of it, I did end up with a clipping-related blister:

So maybe the tree deserves half a point for putting up a good fight.

Psst- We announced this weeks giveaway winners (along with a discount for everyone else). Check it all out here.


  1. nancyo says


    What did you do with all of the branches and shrubs?

    I compost but my collection of sticks & branches is becoming quick substantial now since I just attacked the jungle in my backyard. I use to single “Welcome to the Jungle…” everytime I would give someone a tour. I guess I’ll have to change my song now :/

    I called Home Depot but they only rent large chippers. I’m looking for like a 3″-4″ chipper & Shredder without dishing out big money. I’ve been looking on CL. My city only collects branches/trees that are tied up.

    Do you have any suggestions on the shrubbery/branches?

    What do you do with them?

  2. lesismore says

    wait, was your birthday on the 30th? mines the 29th! i wish i had been as motivated to do something so great on my birthday but being 9.75 months pregnant, i’m just not up for such an adventure.
    i think it looks so much better! perhaps you won’t have to take it down after all. but in the fall you’ll probably wish you did with all those big fat leaves falling all over the yard. (our neighbor has one and i’m constantly picking them up out of our yard)
    p.s. i got the “foiled” reference. i often say, “drat, foiled again!” okay, i don’t but i think i might start!

    • says

      My bday was actually the on 19th. I was a little late hitting my tree trimming goal. Haha. Well, only by about a week. But happy birthday to you! And congrats on the bun in the oven!


  3. Leanne says

    It looks awesome Sherry! Here’s a tip – you should totally invest in a sawzall. It’s name pretty much tells the story: saws all :) I didn’t even know what this was until I met my boyfriend, a contractor. Small and less and intimidating than a chainsaw, you can buy different blades for different applications and can cut almost ANYTHING. I’m so paranoid of power tools, but have actually used it (myself!) for several projects around my house. Here’s one I just found on amazon for a reasonable price:

    • Kristin says

      Once on a visit to see my best friend around Halloween, we carved pumpkins with a sawzall. Fastest pumkin carving I’ve ever done, but it’s not exactly a precision instrument for that particular purpose. :)

    • Becky S. says

      The tree looks great! What an improvement!
      My husband just bought a sawzall with a bunch of different blade types and he is actually encouraging me to use it!! This is something he would never do with a chainsaw because like you, Sherry, me using a chainsaw = almost certain death. So, unless my hubby is trying to off me than I think a sawzall must be pretty easy to use. Can’t wait to get some nice weather up here in Massachusetts to try it out!

    • Elizabeth says

      That looks like a really cool tool! And it has a five star rating after 99 reviews! May have to add that to my wish list.

  4. Dawn SC says

    Wow, great job Sherry! I love magnolia trees (we just planted one in our backyard on our tree planting spree :) ), so glad it could be spared a little while! I suppose my tally with our trees is tied – I thinned out our lemon tree and we can get the fruit easier now, which was the overall goal. But, aesthetically… well, I won’t be taking a job making topiary animals anytime soon. :)

  5. Betsy says

    I have to admit I started getting panicky when I read that you were going to get rid of that magnolia!! I have a thing for mature trees… We have a huge magnolia in our back yard now (also in Bon Air!), and even though it’s massive and badly placed, it’s gorgeous and intoxicating when it’s in bloom in May. I’m really happy/relieved that you decided to try trimming it up first – it looks a million times better, and you get to keep the tree!

  6. says

    Hi there! It looks TONS better, and I saw the comment about best time to prune — I was just wondering if you’ve heard of that spray tarry stuff for pruning? My father always made me use it on roses to help keep bugs from getting inside the plant. I can’t remember what it’s called but they sell it at garden stores and it’s like a little aerosol can of tar — you just blast the cut spots really quick and it’s like a bandaid that keeps stuff out. Just a thought you could try so the tree is around for many years to come??

    Great job though, awesome photo of Sherry in competition shape ;)

  7. Jessica Z. says

    Looks awesome! I love giving our trees and shrubs a haircut — we spent most of last year’s gardening season doing the same after we bought our house. No planting, just clearing. And things look so much neater. Amazing what you can get done in an hour or two and how great you feel afterwards . . .

  8. Lindsey says

    Oh I am soooo glad you didn’t end up just chopping it down.. I LOVE magnolias. We actually just planted a smaller version in our yard. I LOVE what you did though.. it looks great. Now the tree really looks nice in the yard!

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